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Republic of the Philippines



G.R. No. 184362 November 15, 2010





Respondent Virgilio Magallanes started working in 1988 as a utility man for Laurencito Tiu (Tiu),
Chief Executive Officer of Millennium Erectors Corporation (petitioner), Tius family, and Kenneth
Construction Corporation. He was assigned to different construction projects undertaken by
petitioner in Metro Manila, the last of which was for a building in Libis, Quezon City. In July of 2004
he was told not to report for work anymore allegedly due to old age, prompting him to file on August
6, 2004 an illegal dismissal complaint1 before the Labor Arbiter.

In its Position Paper,2 petitioner claimed that respondent was a project employee whom it hired for a
building project in Libis on January 30, 2003, to prove which it submitted the employment
contract3 signed by him; that on August 3, 2004, respondents services were terminated as the
project was nearing completion; and he was given financial assistance4 in the amount of 2,000, for
which he signed a quitclaim and waiver.5 Petitioner likewise submitted a termination report to the
Department of Labor and Employment (DOLE) dated August 17, 2004.

Rebutting respondents claim that he was employed since 1988, petitioner contended that it was
incorporated only in February 2000, and Kenneth Construction Corporation which was established in
1989 and dissolved in 2000, was a separate and distinct entity.

By Decision6 of November 25, 2005, the Labor Arbiter ruled in favor of petitioner and dismissed the
complaint, holding that respondent knew of the nature of his employment as a project employee, he
having executed an employment contract specifying therein the name of and duration of the project
from January 2003 until its completion; and that the services of respondent were terminated due to
the completion of the project as shown by the termination report submitted to the DOLE. The Labor
Arbiter noted that respondent admitted having been assigned to several building projects and that he
failed to give pertinent details of his dismissal such as who terminated him, when he was
terminated, and what were the "overt" acts leading to his dismissal.

On appeal, the National Labor Relations Commission (NLRC) set aside the Labor Arbiters
Decision7 of February 6, 2007 holding that respondent was a regular, not a project employee, as the
employment contract he supposedly signed contained the date of commencement but not a specific
date when it would end, contrary to the rule that the duration and scope of similar contracts should
be clearly set forth therein; and that based on the payrolls 8 petitioner submitted and contrary to its
claim that respondent was hired in January 2003, he had been employed in 2001, not 2003, lending
weight to his claim that he had worked for petitioner for 16 years prior to the filing of his complaint.
The NLRC thus concluded that while respondents work as a utility man may not have been
necessary or desirable in the usual business of petitioner as a construction company, that he
performed the same functions continuously for 16 years converted an otherwise casual employment
to regular employment, hence, his termination without just or authorized cause amounted to illegal

Petitioner moved for reconsideration of the NLRC decision, contending that respondents motion for
reconsideration which it treated as an appeal was not perfected, it having been belatedly filed; that
there was no statement of the date of receipt of the appealed decision; and that it lacked verification
and copies thereof were not furnished the adverse parties. Petitioners motion was denied.

The Court of Appeals, to which petitioner appealed, affirmed the NLRCs ruling by Decision9 of April
11, 2008. Petitioners motion for reconsideration having been denied by Resolution 10 of August 28,
2008, it filed the present petition for review.

Petitioner contends that the Labor Arbiters Decision dismissing the complaint had become final and
executory following respondents failure to perfect his appeal, maintaining that the requirements for
perfection of an appeal and for proof of service are not mere rules of technicality which may easily
be set aside.

The petition fails.

The NLRC did not err in treating respondents motion for reconsideration as an appeal, the presence
of some procedural flaws including the lack of verification and proof of service notwithstanding.

In labor cases, rules of procedure should not be applied in a very rigid and technical sense. They are
merely tools designed to facilitate the attainment of justice, and where their strict application would
result in the frustration rather than promotion of substantial justice, technicalities must be avoided.
Technicalities should not be permitted to stand in the way of equitably and completely resolving the
rights and obligations of the parties. Where the ends of substantial justice shall be better served, the
application of technical rules of procedure may be relaxed.11(emphasis supplied)

Respecting the lack of verification, Pacquing v. Coca-Cola Philippines, Inc. 12 instructs:

As to the defective verification in the appeal memorandum before the NLRC, the same liberality
applies. After all, the requirement regarding verification of a pleading is formal, not jurisdictional.
Such requirement is simply a condition affecting the form of pleading, the non-compliance of which
does not necessarily render the pleading fatally defective. Verification is simply intended to secure
an assurance that the allegations in the pleading are true and correct and not the product of the
imagination or a matter of speculation, and that the pleading is filed in good faith. The court or
tribunal may order the correction of the pleading if verification is lacking or act on the pleading
although it is not verified, if the attending circumstances are such that strict compliance with the rules
may be dispensed with in order that the ends of justice may thereby be served. (emphasis supplied)

As for the requirement on proof of service, it may also be dispensed with since in appeals in labor
cases, non-service of copy of the appeal or appeal memorandum to the adverse party is not a
jurisdictional defect which calls for the dismissal of the appeal. 13

On the merits of the case, the Court finds that, indeed, respondent was a regular, not a project
Saberola v. Suarez14 reiterates the well-settled definition of "project employee," viz:

A project employee is one whose "employment has been fixed for a specific project or
undertaking, the completion or termination of which has been determined at the time of the
engagement of the employee or where the work or service to be performed is seasonal in nature and
the employment is for the duration of the season." (emphasis and underscoring supplied) 1avvphi1

And Equipment Technical Services v. Court of Appeals15 emphasizes the difference between a
regular employee and a project employee:

As the Court has consistently held, the service of project employees are coterminus [sic] with the
project and may be terminated upon the end or completion of that project or project phase for which
they were hired. Regular employees, in contrast, enjoy security of tenure and are entitled to hold on
to their work or position until their services are terminated by any of the modes recognized under the
Labor Code. (emphasis and underscoring supplied)

Petitioners various payrolls dating as early as 2001 show that respondent had been employed by it.
As aptly observed by the appellate court, these documents, rather than sustaining petitioners
argument, only serve to support respondents contention that he had been employed in various
projects, if not for 16 years, at the very least two years prior to his dismissal.

Assuming arguendo that petitioner hired respondent initially on a per project basis, his continued
rehiring, as shown by the sample payrolls converted his status to that of a regular employee.
Following Cocomangas Beach Hotel Resort v. Visca,16 the repeated and continuing need for
respondents services is sufficient evidence of the necessity, if not indispensability, of his services to
petitioner's business and, as a regular employee, he could only be dismissed from employment for a
just or authorized cause.

Petitioner having failed to discharge its burden of proving that it terminated the services of
respondent for cause and with due process, the challenged decision must remain.

WHEREFORE, the petition is DENIED.